The D.C. Special Election
Muriel Bowser in Ward 4 and Victor Vandell in Ward 7 are the best bets for council.
DISTRICT residents in Wards 4 and 7 will go to the polls May 1 for a special election to fill some big shoes. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) were elected last fall and vacated terms that will expire in January 2009. Voters in Wards 3 and 4 also will elect a new Board of Education member to replace Victor A. Reinoso, who became deputy mayor for education. Special elections, often with low voter turnout, traditionally attract many candidates because winning is easier with a small base of support. This year’s races are no exception. Ward 4 has 19 candidates, Ward 7 has 18 and eight people are running for a seat on the school board.
Mr. Fenty will be a hard act to follow in Ward 4, particularly in the area of constituent service. A strong group of candidates with years of community activism includes Brightwood consultant Charles C. Gaither (D) and Graylan Scott Hagler (D), pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, but the best choice is (D), a 34-year-old Riggs Park resident with a background of ANC service. Ms. Bowser’s emphasis is on neighborhoods, and she has keen insights on transportation and economic development, ideas shaped in part by her experience running a government center in Montgomery County. Ms. Bowser has been endorsed by Mr. Fenty, and we see her emulating his energetic approach to government. Some have unfairly suggested that because of Mr. Fenty’s support, Ms. Bowser will be a rubber-stamp for the mayor. Anyone who has seen Ms. Bowser stake out a position, even when it’s not popular with the crowd, would not fear for her independence. She alone of the Ward 4 candidates had the courage to support transferring control of the schools to the mayor. Also running in Ward 4 is lobbyist Michael A. Brown (D), who aborted his candi- dacy for mayor last year. Mr. Brown is an attractive campaigner with high name recognition, but he’s running on promises (eliminating property taxes for senior citizens, refinancing the baseball stadium deal) not likely to be kept. Muriel Bowser would bring balance to the council, while serving Ward 4 with vigor.
In Ward 7, the field is dominated by candidates with deep roots in the community, but the one with the best ideas and most energy is newcomer (D). Mr. Vandell, a 41-year-old Deanwood resident, rightly places the emphasis of his campaign on better meeting the needs of a ward that has too long felt and been neglected. Mr. Vandell served as ward coordinator for Mr. Fenty’s mayoral campaign; if he is elected, we see him delivering muscular constituent service. He has promised to open a ward council office and to unite the ward through better use of ANCs. The issue he is most passionate about is bettering the lives of young people, and he has promising ideas for youth programs. Mr. Vandell’s critics resent that he has lived in the ward for less than two years, but being a council member is about more than paying your dues. We admire his vision and fresh ideas. The strongest school board candidates are
community outreach director at KIPP DC, and consultant Martin Levine. We endorsed Mr. Levine when he ran for the board in 2000 and still admire his smarts and commitment. But Mr. Biddle is better suited to be part of a board that will be reshaped under the expected mayoral takeover. Mr. Biddle’s background as a teacher and a director with Teach for America and his knowledge of successful charter schools will be important assets for the board. That he has one child in a D.C. public school and another headed there gives him even more incentive to work for school improvement.